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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

More about the Clarissa and the Sir Charles Grandison in Austen’s Persuasion

Nancy Mayer in Janeites: “All in all, I don't think anyone has such toxic relatives as Anne.”

Nancy, as you gathered, I was struck by your above statement, because the female character in English literature who more closely fits your above description than Anne Elliot is Clarissa Harlowe – Clarissa, who has far more toxic siblings, and who is not simply ignored, but is actively harassed and preyed on by those closest to her, for various sinister motives.

Nancy: "Clarissa is not among the novels Jane Austen wrote."

But I persist in claiming that it is most definitely one of the few novels which Jane Austen wove into pretty much all of her own novels (including Sanditon), in a powerful and thematically significant way, as I will now elaborate further.

What I was going to post yesterday is that with further research, browsing and reading various additional articles, book chapters, and dissertations, I now add the following claims to those I asserted last week regarding Richardson's fiction and Austen's Persuasion:

1. It turns out that in Persuasion, Jane Austen also included an extraordinarily detailed and complex, but covert, allusion to Richardson's Sir Charles Grandison  (SCG), as well as to Clarissa. Since I previously was so unfamiliar with the elaborate plot of SCG, I was unaware of those extensive parallels.

At first blush, I find the most intriguing aspect of that allusion to be the parallel between the relationship of paterfamilias Sir Thomas Grandison with Mrs. Oldham, on the one hand, and the relationship of paterfamilias Sir Walter Elliot and Mrs. Clay, on the other. It is explicit in SCG that Sir Thomas G. sires two illegitimate children on his mistress, Mrs. Oldham.

As I am not the first to observe, that obviously leads to the fascinating question of what that might tell us about the fathering of Mrs. Clay's two children whom we never see, and many have wondered about –does knowing what happens in SCG suggest that the intimate relationship between Sir Walter and Mrs. Clay that Anne fears so much is actually a longstanding one that she has cluelessly been unaware of? And perhaps those two children are girls, and therefore, even though sired by Sir Walter, they stand in line behind Cousin Elliot, so their existence does not constitute a problem for Cousin Elliots inheriting Kellynch-hall?

2. When I commented in one of my earlier posts that the complex parallel between Clarissa H. and Anne E. includes their parallel state of repression of intense sexuality which nonetheless makes its presence known, I did not yet recognize that this parallel is foregrounded by the repeated references to Wentworth's "pen" in the White Hart Inn scene --- it turns out, as I previously had blogged about in the context of writing about the sexual heat between Anna Howe and Clarissa, that this exact same phallic pun on "pen" is repeatedly used by Richardson in Clarissa

So, in a remarkable way, that scene in the White Hart Inn can now be seen as a brilliant, profound, telescoped microcosm of the many pages of Clarissa, in that both Richardson's novel and Austen's chapter involve letter writing, sexual tension, and a debate on constancy, and both occur in the specific context of Prior’s poem “Henry and Emma”.

And so, how ironic and telling in this regard that it was SCG which Jane Austen burlesqued in a super-short juvenile playlet. It would seem that Jane Austen enjoyed turning Richardson's gargantuan novels into smaller versions of her own - much as she did with the ponderous tomes of history that she telescoped down to a matter of a handful of pages in her History of England.

3. And finally and speaking of “Henry and Emma”, I became aware only today, courtesy of a brilliant article by Emily Friedman, that Sarah Fielding's Remarks on Clarissa contains the following remarkable passage, which explicitly suggests that “Henry and Emma” is totally ambiguous as to its fundamental meaning:

“But had the Poet thought proper, that Henry should have turned out the Murderer, the Vagabond, the insolent and ungrateful Scorner of her Love he represented himself to be; had her Father's Sorrow for her Fate shortned his miserable Days; had she been abandoned by the Wretch she had so much Reason to expect the worst of Treatment from, and, between Rage, Despair, and a thousand conflicting Passions, been led by a natural Gradation from one Vice to another, till she had been lost in the most abandoned Profligacy; instead of being proposed for an Example, her Name would have been only mentioned to deter others from the like rash Steps. That this was the natural Consequence of her Actions is very apparent: Nor do I think from her Behaviour, that Henry had the least Reason to be convinced that she would not leave him for the first Man who would try to seduce her, provided the Colour of his Complexion suited her Fancy.”

In other words, it’s not clear whether the reader is meant to believe in Emma’s constancy. So, just as Sarah Fielding's famous brother Henry picked up on Richardson’s ambiguous Pamela and made the shadow Pamela Shamela, so too in the above comment does Sarah Fielding’s wise reader Miss Gibson makes explicit the strong ambiguity of Prior’s Emma as she compares to Clarissa!

Cheers, ARNIE

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